Alternative forms of medicine and therapy are all the rage. What are they an “alternative” to? Traditional western medicine, which is science-based. The American Cancer Society describes naturopathy:
Naturopathic medicine is a complete alternative care system that uses a wide range of approaches such as nutrition, herbs, manipulation of the body, exercise, stress reduction, and acupuncture. Parts of naturopathy are sometimes used as complementary therapy along with mainstream medicine. Naturopathic medicine is a holistic approach (meaning it is intended to treat the whole person) that tries to enlist the healing power of the body and nature to fight disease.
While there are some benefits to naturopathy, patients should not be fooled into thinking that it is a legitimate treatment for any medical condition. Yes, things like stress reduction and acupuncture can have positive benefits to the body overall. Proper exercise and paying close attention to your body and the signs it is giving are good.
According to the American Cancer Society:
Available scientific evidence does not support claims that naturopathic medicine can cure cancer or any other disease, since virtually no studies on naturopathy as a whole have been published. The individual methods used by naturopathic medicine vary in their effectiveness. Homeopathy, for instance, has been shown in studies to be of little value. Other naturopathic methods have been shown to help in prevention and symptom management. Examples include diet for lowering the risk of severe illnesses such as heart disease and cancer and counseling, relaxation, and herbs to help reduce anxiety.
An even less flattering description of naturopathy goes like this (again, from a real doctor):
Basically, it’s anything that can be portrayed as “natural,” be it traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy (which is an integral component of naturopathy, something that should tell you all you need to know about naturopathy), herbalism, energy healing, Ayurvedic medicine, the four humors, or whatever. Add to that a number of bogus diagnostic modalities, such as applied kinesiology, live blood cell analysis, iridology, tests for imaginary “food allergies” and “nutrient deficiencies” that conventional medicine doesn’t recognize, plus an overwhelming emphasis on purging the body of “toxins,” unnamed and named but all unvalidated by science, and it rapidly becomes apparent that naturopathy is a veritable cornucopia of pseudoscience and quackery. Seemingly, there is no quackery that naturopathy does not credulously embrace, which is why the success of recent efforts of naturopaths to achieve licensure in several states and even obtain limited privileges to prescribe real pharmaceutical drugs is so alarming, as are their efforts to become recognized as primary care providers under the Affordable Care Act.
Those who claim that naturopathic treatments cure conditions such as chronic pain, menopause, HIV, cancer, diabetes, autism, or other conditions are lying. While naturopathy may help alleviate some of the symptoms of these conditions, it is in no way a cure for anything.
But what do I know? I’m just a little fraud investigator. Let’s hear from someone who was educated to be a “naturopathic doctor” and practiced as such. Britt Hermes practiced as a naturopathic doctor for three years following her schooling. She says about naturopathy:
I’ve concluded that naturopathic medicine is not what I was led to believe. It is a system of indoctrination based on discredited ideas about health and medicine, full of anti-science rhetoric and ineffective and sometimes dangerous practices.
Britt says that naturopathy is being falsely promoted as a type of primary healthcare, but the reality is that the education and clinical work is insufficient and:
… naturopathic education is riddled with pseudoscience, debunked medical theories, and experimental medical practices.
Naturopaths do not have nearly enough training and education to provide services as a primary care physician, and doing so puts patients in danger. Britt did a detailed analysis of her own course of study, and then summed it up:
I think it is quite apparent that the 561 hours of what I calculated to be “direct patient contact” in clinical training are nothing of the sort that would instill confidence in anyone that naturopathic education can produce competent primary care physicians. There is no way that such training produces better, cheaper or more effective health care than what is currently available. Yet, this is exactly the rhetoric fed to federal and state lawmakers about naturopathic medicine, and it is wrong.
If naturopaths are going to continue to argue that their scope of practice should reflect their training, then they need to accept that their scope of practice should be severely, severely, severely dialed back or they need to conduct a massive overhaul of their training, as the DOs did in the 1970s. Furthermore, naturopaths are not required to complete residencies (except for those practicing in Utah who need one year of residency), which is where any physician will argue the real practice of medicine is learned over the course of multiple-year post-graduate training in a teaching hospital.
Realistically, if I were to practice naturopathic medicine according to my training at Bastyr University, I honestly do not even know what I would be qualified to do.
I you believe nothing else about naturopathic “medicine,” believe this: It is often dangerous. There are only very loose standards of care, and naturopaths (even the “good” ones) invent treatments. That’s not safe, and it’s certainly not scientific.